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Formerly incarcerated Black woman running for Congress

If elected, Keeda Haynes will be Tennessee’s first Black Congresswoman.

Keeda Haynes Facebook / Keeda Haynes

A Tennessee woman named Keeda Haynes who was incarcerated for nearly four years is now running for U.S. Congress. If elected, Haynes will become the first Black Congresswoman to represent the state.

Speaking with the Huffington Post, Haynes explained that her experience as a former prisoner and public defender give her important political insight in the fight against systemic racism in the criminal justice system. The 42-year-old woman was imprisoned in 2003 for a marijuana-related felony that she maintains her innocence of. Due to mandatory minimum sentencing, she was sentenced to seven years in prison, which was later appealed to five.

“I am running because looking around I can see that people that look like me, that have the same issues I have, we were not being represented in this district,” Haynes told the outlet. “It’s important to have someone in Congress that can view the policy from the lens of being formerly incarcerated, as a woman, an African American, saddled with student loan debt, from a working-class family.”

“In Congress, it’s important that we center the voices of people formerly incarcerated. When talking about criminal justice reform, we get caught up in the numbers. We’re not numbers, we’re people, we have lives — I am one of those numbers,” she added.

Haynes is running against 17-year Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper, who represents Tennessee’s fifth district. She’s advocating for platforms like criminal justice reform, affordable housing and raising the minimum wage. In recent weeks, Haynes has also supported the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts to defund police departments.

“Everything is connected: if people don’t have jobs, if people don’t have housing, if they’re living in neighborhoods that are over-policed, there’s going to be this disparity,” she said. “If you have police criminalizing the color of people’s skin, they’re going to end up in the criminal justice system.”

“With Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd... people took notice [and] said, ‘Hey, we need to protest in the streets,” she continued. “But we also need to look at who is in office and determine if they represent who we are.”

See Haynes’ campaign video below.

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